As I’ve been watching all these Disney movies a thought has struck me which I want to present to all of you. When is a movie just not made for me? What responsibility does a movie have to please a general audience verses a niche group?
On first glance it seems like there are movies that entertain every demographic. Pixar films are often brought up. However, even their movies have typically pleased some audiences more than others. For instance, Toy Story 3 was universally praised by critics and most audiences, but my nieces found the ending with the incinerator to be too upsetting. They didn’t like it at all.
So should they have taken the incinerator scene out because it upset my nieces? Well, that depends who they are making a movie for? As my nieces were a secondary audience, not the primary the scene stays and is actually a very profound, tense and exciting moment for most viewers.
This invites lots of interesting questions. In fact, my thoughts are very scattered on the topic and I’m struggling to focus them in a coherent way.
Here’s some points to consider:
Small audiences need and deserve stories for them.
Let’s face it. We live in a world where movies are the predominant storytelling device of our age. More so than books and I still think more so than TV, especially for children. So imagine how difficult is to be say 3 or 4 and hear about all the exciting movies your brothers and sisters get to see. Things like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings that are not appropriate for your age group. Even most Disney movies are not made for the smallest kids.
That’s what makes it nice when movies are made for these toddler to preschool age audience. For example, the Barbie movies, Tinker Bell movies are made for girls 3-7 and for that demographic they are made very well. I haven’t seen all of them but the one’s I have were engaging and very well done. Now a 50 year old movie critic could tear them apart but they aren’t made for him, so who cares? (I’d give boy examples but I only have nieces so don’t know any). I think it is great girls have their own franchises and films to get excited about and learn from. That’s great!
An even more narrow audience for movies is the toddler age. Part of this is because 1-3 aged children can’t sit for the length of a movie. This is one reason I loved the 2011 Winnie the Pooh movie. I don’t want to give away my review but it is a rare Hollywood movie made for very small children. First of all, it is extremely short. It has simple ideas and plot but lovingly told. Even the other Winnie the Pooh movies I have seen are too scary and usually too long for toddlers. It uses repetition and is friendly and happy, which toddlers love. The music is hummable and sweet.
I can’t even think of other movies for toddlers, which are even made, and even fewer that are made well (Curious George movie was a good one that gets a lot of flack from those outside its intended audience). Most entertainment for toddlers is television (and I don’t think toddlers should spend much time in front of the TV if any but most parents need a moment or two for a break. Let’s be honest!). Should these shows worry about being entertaining to teenage boys or 2o year old college students? No. That’s not their audience!
Another example of a narrow audience is religious films . With the affordability of digital film-making, movies can be made for a smaller audience and still be profitable. This gives us movies like the evangelical films of Kirk Cameron or the Mormon films made for my faith.
Should someone making a Mormon film worry about pleasing an Evangelical or an Atheist? No, that isn’t their audience. Any movie who tried to make all religious groups happy would have a tall order. It could be done with good writing but there is something nice about having a movie made, telling a story just from my religious perspective. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.
Now is an audience an excuse to making a bad film? No. If anything you should put more effort into telling a story for your smaller audience. It should be even better than the average Hollywood schlock because you have a more narrow window of people to appeal too. That’s why I hate when people say ‘it’s for kids’ as if that somehow means it is stupid. The best kids movies inspire their creativity and imagination. The best Mormon films make me want to be a better person (and I’ll be honest I’m not the biggest fan of most of them).
It angers me when I can tell filmmakers of any genre are being lazy. Your audience, no matter how narrow, deserve a good effort. (For the record, I feel the same way about Michael Bay movies. His audiences deserve more of an effort to make a good film). I should be able to walk away from a movie and say ‘well, that didn’t work for me but I can see who they were trying to reach and how some could enjoy it’.
Another problem we can have is when a movie doesn’t understand its audience.
Hunchback of Notre Dame is a perfect example. Even its defenders usually admit it is a mature film not for small children. But the studio still wanted it to be for small children and their families so they threw in kidlike violence and humor which ruined the movie. It’s way too dark for these kids and the immature moments are off-putting for adults. It makes it a tonal mess and a frustrating experience. If they had just said ‘you know what . This movie is for adults’ like Pans Labyrinth or even the later Harry Potter films it would have been a favorite of mine. As it is I just can’t endorse it. Trying to appeal to the wrong audience, or too many audiences, ruined the film.
We can also have films who have a main and secondary audience. This is what Pixar does well. Children are the primary audience with parents being the secondary. This makes sense since both are usually at the theater watching (a lot of the age specific films I listed above are direct to DVD which is probably the best way to appeal to some audiences). What I personally hate is when the secondary audience sullies the primary, or takes over the tone and feel of the film. This was my issue with the Shrek movies . Instead of a few jokes, the innuendo is so strong the films feel vulgar to me. I honestly hate them.
So, the priority is making a good movie but in order for that to happen filmmakers must ask themselves ‘who is my audience?’ and we as filmgoers need to be willing to say ‘this just isn’t made for me’. It’s not bad for a film to be made for toddlers or any other demographic. That is very good because they can participate with us in this great storytelling device of the movies.
All audiences deserve quality and to have movies made for them to enjoy.